Here are some tips for writing good cutlines:
- Is it complete? Is there anything unusual in the picture that is not explained in the cutline?
- Does it identify? Identification is the basic purpose of a cutline.
- Does it tell when and
- Where the picture was shot?
- Does it tell what is in the picture, not what is in the story? (In other words, don’t repeat the lead of the story.)
- Does it avoid repeating word for word a sentence or passage directly from the story? (Just as a headline should not echo the lead of a story, a cutline should not repeat verbatim sentences or passages from story. That is lazy editing.)
- Does it have the names right? This means are they spelled correctly and in correct order (from left).
- Is it easy to read? The sentences must be short, direct and in proper sequence.
- Is it specific? Does it give information on specific points of interest in the picture, or does it merely echo the obvious?
- Does it have adjectives? Let the reader decide whether the subject is “middle-aged,” “glamorous” and so on. Also, don’t interpret emotions.
- Does the picture suggest another picture? Going to press without the other picture is like running a story before getting all the facts.
- Use present tense in the first sentence that gives identification, the who and what in the picture, and what is happening.
- Use another tense in following sentences and use time element.
- Be clever, but not cutesy
- Try for identification, but don’t stress fact it is unknown. Find a label for those pictured.
- Identify from left to right, and indicated with left if it is not obvious.
- Use full sentences.
*Some of this comes from the Associated Press Managing Editors’ Newspaper Committee under the leadership of Emmett Dedmon of the Chicago Sun-Times.